Man, Final Fantasy Tactics Sure Had A Steep Learning Curve

Earlier this week, I talked to some game developers about why they love Final Fantasy Tactics. But beloved or not, man, does this game have a steep learning curve.

A little background: I never had a PS1, so I didn't have a chance to play Final Fantasy Tactics. I became terrifyingly hooked on Tactics A2 on the DS, but after hearing so many people prosthelytize about how the original is the superior game, I wanted to finally play it.

And so I have been. I'll be writing about the game a lot here over the coming weeks, since I can already tell there's going to be a lot to unpack. But first: The whole learning-curve thing.

I wanted to share a chat conversation I had with our resident FFT savant Jason Schreier after I spent a couple of hours getting pantsed over and over again by the game's first difficulty spike, the infamous Dorter Slums.

Brace for a long, sprawling IM conversation!

Kirk: I really just lost Dorter Slums
Kirk: man
Kirk: got shredded
Kirk: am I going to have to go grind in training forever to level my bros up?

Jason: nope
Jason: tell me about your party

Kirk: squire MC (squire) chemist chemist 2 bros

Jason: there's your problem

Kirk: ok
Kirk: go

Jason: at this point, your characters should all be at least job level 2 in their respective classes

Kirk: I thiiink they are

Jason: at squire level 2, you can become a knight or archer
Jason: at chemist level 2, you can become a wizard or priest

Kirk: yeah but how can I get a bow

Jason: igros castle sells equipment for knights and archers
Jason: gariland sells stuff for wizards and priests

Kirk: ok one sec, getting back into the game

Jason: oh also, save a lot
Jason: because you can get into random battles any time you're moving across a green tile
Jason: and there's no fleeing

Kirk: yup
Kirk: I'm already on top of that one
Kirk: so should I make my bro a knight

Jason: yeah so at this point it's totally up to you
Jason: this is basically where the game starts opening up

Kirk: so what's a good party

Jason: you might want to make algus and delita knights
Jason: since their AI is dumb
Jason: and knights have the most HP

Kirk: yeah I mean god
Kirk: fucking morons

Jason: a good party for your four guys is knight/archer/wizard/priest for now

Kirk: k

Jason: then when the battle starts you can move your archer-bro up the bigass hill
Jason: with your wizard to help take out bros up there
Jason: keep your knight below to slash shit up and your priest to give him support
Jason: now for the spell system

Kirk: ok ok one sec

Jason: basically what happens is when you select a spell to cast, you can also check when that spell will actually go off

Kirk: i'm making my chick chemist Hilde into a white mage

Jason: and you can hit a button (i forget which) to see the entire order of events
Jason: so like
Jason: if you're casting a fire spell on an enemy
Jason: you want to get it off before that enemy moves
Jason: so if the turn order says the enemy will go first
Jason: you might not want to cast it on that guy
Jason: but there are a lot of factors involved

Kirk: so ok

Jason: you'll get the hang of it

Kirk: how do i check turn order
Kirk: I can't figure that out

Jason: so when you go to cast a spell
Jason: either right, or select
Jason: i forget
Jason: or start maybe
Jason: idk
Jason: play around with buttons
Jason: but there's a way to see it in the menu when you cast that spell

Kirk: right
Kirk: so it takes a turn, which makes sense
Kirk: it's like Trails In The Sky in that way actually
Kirk: in A2 you usually cast immediately except with some spells, at least that's how I remember it

Jason: yeah
Jason: well the math is like
Jason: everyone has a bar called CT that gradually charges
Jason: and when a character's CT hits 100, it's their turn
Jason: but some classes recharge faster than others
Jason: it's all based on your speed stat

Kirk: riiiight
Kirk: CT

Jason: your main character, btw, gets a shitload of awesome squire abilities that you should learn asap
Jason: including one that boosts speed
Jason: oh also
Jason: when you're switching everyone's classes
Jason: make sure you remember to give them secondary skills
Jason: so like ramza should get Guts always

Kirk: so right
Kirk: so like

Jason: some other dudes could get Items

Kirk: I'm gonna do that
Kirk: so I have to learn abilities
Kirk: what was the thing you said I should learn immediately though?

Jason: gained JP up
Jason: for everyone

Kirk: how do i do that

Jason: ok go into the menu
Jason: go to job/abilities

Kirk: yeah

Jason: there should be a big menu with every class

Kirk: yup

Jason: for each character, you go into each class and you can learn abils there

Kirk: yes
Kirk: aah
Kirk: JP Boost
Kirk: is that it?

Jason: oh yeah, sorry
Jason: some of the abil names were changed for PSP
Jason: "gained jp up" was psx

Kirk: so if I learn that
Kirk: for Squire
Kirk: and I'm a knight
Kirk: I'll still have it?

Jason: yes

Kirk: k

Jason: you have to equip it, though
Jason: each char can only use one support ability at a time
Jason: one reaction, one support, one movement

Kirk: ooh

Jason: so for each character, you have to learn JP boost, then equip it
Jason: abilities are different
Jason: active abilities, that is
Jason: i think they're called "command" abilities

Kirk: great
Kirk: this is great

Jason: so if you have a knight, and you set his secondary ability to squire abils
Jason: then you can use all squire command abilities
Jason: but not all squire support/movement/reaction abilities

Kirk: ok hang on parsing that

Jason: those are separate
Jason: ok basically
Jason: go to one of your dudes
Jason: and go into the menu where it lists all the jobs
Jason: then go to squire

Kirk: ohh
Kirk: hang on
Kirk: so first I have to activate JP boost
Kirk: I have two lightning bolt abilities
Kirk: an arrow
Kirk: a looping arrow
Kirk: and a foot

Jason: right
Jason: i forget which arrows are which
Jason: but one is support, one is reaction
Jason: foot is move
Jason: the two lightning bolts are command abils

Kirk: right

Jason: so those can all be mixed and matched
Jason: once a character learns an ability, he can equip it at any time
Jason: so once Kirklton has jp boost, he can put that in no matter what class he is

Kirk: right
Kirk: got it
Kirk: not everyone has enough jp to get jp boost yet
Kirk: but they're close
Kirk: we'll have to win another fight or two
Kirk: probs on the way to the castle to get a bow

Jason: so do that before you switch classes

Kirk: right

Jason: since remember, they all need to be getting squire jp

Kirk: well
Kirk: my mages are all good
Kirk: oh aaah
Kirk: they have to be squires to get the jp
Kirk: right right

Jason: not necessarily
Jason: remember the sharing thing

Kirk: is move+1 necessary? my black mage isn't close to getting it

Jason: ok so yeah, as long as you have one or two squires, everyone will learn at least a tiny bit of squire jp

Kirk: aah got it
Kirk: I don't want any squires

Jason: it's nice, but not necessary
Jason: right so
Jason: when you're grinding
Jason: you can have one person be a squire
Jason: so everyone else gains that jp
Jason: and can get jp boost

Kirk: riiight

Jason: since jp boost is necessary

Kirk: do you grind with training?

Jason: what do you mean
Jason: ok here's the thing about grinding
Jason: you basically never need to grind
Jason: unless you have specific goals
Jason: like "hey i wanna get this ability right now"
Jason: but what you can do is
Jason: in one battle
Jason: kill every monster but one
Jason: weaken that one
Jason: he'll run away to a corner of the map
Jason: and then just have all your characters wail on one another
Jason: or use random abilities
Jason: because they gain JP/exp for every action
Jason: so that's what really matters

Kirk: right

Jason: you can get hundreds and hundreds of JP in one random battle just by having your characters attack each other for a little while

Kirk: god
Kirk: hahahaha
Kirk: how the fuck did anyone learn this
Kirk: I guess they read the manual

Jason: nah
Jason: there's a bigass tutorial section but in the original version it was garbled and wrong
Jason: so we all just kind of
Jason: fucked around


Even a week or so later, transcribing and re-printing that chat, I understand more of just what the hell Jason was talking about than I did at the time. But any way you slice it... well, Final Fantasy Tactics is not a welcoming game.

That's okay, mind: Part of the fun of these older games is leaning on the expertise of folks who have been playing them for more than a decade. (I found a similar thing when I played through Final Fantasy VII alongside Leigh Alexander a few years ago.)

I'm well beyond Dorter Slums now, and have got my head around a lot of the game's rules and intricacies. I'll have much more on Final Fantasy Tactics in the near future. And hey, if you're playing along, I'd love to hear your tips, too. Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter, I'm having a great time chatting with everyone about the game.